EARTH Thailand

Activists vow to fight environment bill

The Nation 23 September 2017 | PRATCH RUJIVANAROM  

Protests planned from November as critics say it fails to improve on flaws and process lacked public participation.

ENVIRONMENTAL activists from around the country jointly protested against the new Enhancement and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Bill for not doing enough to protect the environment and lacking public participation, and announced a prolonged demonstration beginning in November.

The group of around 50 environmental activists gathered at the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry yesterday to address their concerns over flaws in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Environmental and Health Impact Assessment (EHIA) as well as other shortcomings in the bill. Despite representatives of the ministry agreeing to look into the group’s concerns, they announced a big protest in November against this bill.

A legal adviser to the group and Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants Foundation manager Supaporn Malailoi said that people around the country were disappointed with the new bill, as it did not show any improvement in environmental protection.

“We have learnt many expensive lessons from the previous EIA/EHIA and the current Enhancement and Conservation of National Environmental Quality Act cannot be a good tool to prevent adverse environmental impacts from harmful projects. We do not see any improvement in this bill, as the problematic principles are still retained,” Supaporn said.

She stressed that if the authorities really wanted to solve the EIA/EHIA problems, they would have to reform the entire process, not just copy similar principles from the old law and make some changes.

“The people from around the country suffered a lot from the bad previous EIA/EHIA. Many EIA/EHIA reports were poorly done and inaccurate, but still they passed and allowed the problematic projects to go ahead,” she said.

“We also do not notice the principle of Strategic Environmental Assessment [SEA] in this bill. SEA is very important because it can point out the best development options to an area based on the resources of the locality.”

Supaporn said the ministry had also failed to allow proper public participation in drafting of the law, as mandated in Article 77 of the constitution. Under the charter, every new law has to pass the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) and public hearing on the law.

“The principle of RIA is to let the people access the draft law and assess it to see that problems from the previous law had been ironed out. They can then give their feedback to the lawmakers, but this good practice has been absent in the drafting of this bill,” she said.

Deputy permanent secretary of Natural Resources and Environment Ministry Somchai Masathian met the protesters and said the ministry acknowledged their concerns and promised to improve to the extent the ministry has power to do so, while their other major concerns would be reported to higher-ups.

“We need to renew our environmental law to suit the changing situation and by doing so we have to revise the old law and make it better. I will ensure that this law will be a good legal tool to prevent adverse environmental impacts on the people,” Somchai said.

Regarding inadequate public participation in the drafting of the law, he admitted that the RIA was quite new for Thai authorities and the ministry admitted this was a mistake. However, he assured that all the concerns of the people about this law would be passed on to the National Legislative Assembly and the Cabinet.

The bill is currently being considered by the Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the People’s Network for Sustainable Development representative Prasitchai Nu-nuan said people were disappointed with this bill and vowed to stage a prolonged protest in Bangkok until the bill was improved and truly protected the environment and the livelihood of people as guaranteed by Article 58 of the Constitution.